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Together Talk hopes to expand to Athabasca

Barrhead Association For Community Living has high hopes Alberta Health will extend its funding for its counseling program to help people deal with emotional issues brought about by the pandemic
Barry Rose and Don McGillivray copy
Therapist Don McGillivray (right) pictured here with Anglican diocese priest Barry Rose shortly after Talk Together began in-person counseling sessions in Barrhead, in March 2021.

BARRHEAD- The Barrhead Association For Community Living (BACL) wants to take its successful Together Talk program on the road.

But the question remains whether they will be able to do it, or for that matter, if they can continue the program.

The BACL is a not-for-profit organization that has been in operation for more than 45 years. For the last 20 years, they have concentrated on programming for people suffering from mental health disorders. 

Together Talk is a counselling program that helps area residents, from school-age children to adults, deal with the emotional issues from the COVID-19 pandemic. The program is available in-person and also has an online component via its website ( The in-person counselling sessions started in Barrhead but shortly after expanded to Westlock. Together Talk also included a therapeutic drumming component.

The program was created by a $129,000 grant under Alberta Health's Mental Health and Addiction COVID-19 Community Funding program. BACL made the application in partnership with support from Pembina Hills School Division (PHSD) and the Anglican Churches in Barrhead and Westlock.

BACL board member Dale Clark said Together Talk only has funding for about another month, but they are hopeful that the province will make other monies available.

"(Alberta Health) has told us that they are considering extending the grant. If they do, we want to not only fine-tune the program from what we have learned over the past year but expand it to Athabasca," she said.

Clark added that it is difficult to make to expand the program and make the necessary partnerships needed without the promise of funding, but they have reached out to several Athabasca groups, who have expressed interest in becoming involved, including a local church as well as groups and individuals in the area's indigenous community.

She also said that once they receive confirmation of funding, they hope to involve Aspen View Public Schools.

"When we do, we expect that like (the Pembina Hills School Division) we will get their full support, but we won't approach them until we have some indication that (the province) will extend the program because it takes a lot of time and effort on their part," Clark said.

As for how successful the program has been, they are still tabulating the numbers, but after getting off to a slow start, Clark said the number of people seeking counselling services has picked up in recent months.

Don McGillivray, Together Talk's lead psychologist, agreed, noting he has noticed a spike in the number of people taking advantage of their services, especially in the last two months.

BACL unrolled the first part of the program in January 2021 at Barrhead and Westlock's elementary schools, Barrhead Composite High School and Barrhead's Outreach School. By mid-March, they had expanded the program to include weekly, walk-in, in-person counselling sessions in Barrhead, expanding them further in July to include Westlock.

The walk-in sessions, which follow a strict COVID-19 protocol, are available Tuesdays and Wednesdays at the Barrhead Anglican Church from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. on a first-come, first-served basis. Sessions are 60 minutes, including a 15-minute consultation.

Like all Talk Together counselling services, sessions are free, and no referral is needed. To access walk-in services, clients must be at least 16 years old. Counselling for those under 16 may still be possible, but before the decision is made, the therapist must first meet with the parent or guardian.

"Surprisingly, it is the walk-ins that are growing," McGillivray said.

He attributed the popularity of the in-person sessions to the fact that people are growing tired of virtual get-togethers.

As for the concerns or issues people are bringing to Together Talk counsellors, the majority, McGillivray said, are based in anxiety.

"Anxiety and fear around COVID, especially the new variant, domestic violence, suicide ideations and self-harm, and depression, are the main themes that we are seeing," he said.

McGillivray added that many of the issues people are bringing forward were pre-existing conditions that were exacerbated due to the added anxiety they feel because of the pandemic.

He added that people taking advantage of Together Talk's services span from families and adults, who prefer the in-person sessions to teenagers from 16 to 19, who are more apt to take advantage of virtual counselling sessions via the website.

Upcoming seminars

Together Talk is hosting a trio of sessions in Barrhead and Westlock led by registered psychologist Dr Cath Thorlakson.

The first is in Westlock on Saturday, Jan. 15 from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., at the Outreach School (1) dealing with anxiety and developing coping mechanisms. 

The other two sessions on Jan. 22 and 29 are about how to deal with loneliness, grief and loss. The Jan. 22 session is at the Westlock Outreach School (1-119919-106th Street), while the Jan. 29 session is at the Barrhead Anglican Church on Mainstreet. Both sessions are from 1:30 to 3p.m.

Due to public health restrictions, limited seating is available and people are asked to pre-register by phone or text at 780-674-5051.

Clark noted that Thorlakson is well-known in the area, adding she worked and lived in Barrhead for several years as a therapist with Alberta Addictions and Mental Health and was a pastor at the Barrhead Alliance Church.

Barry Kerton,


Barry Kerton

About the Author: Barry Kerton

Barry Kerton is the managing editor of the Barrhead Leader, joining the paper in 2014. He covers news, municipal politics and sports.
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